Bouncing light is one of the first ways photographers will begin to manipulate and modify light. Natural light shooters use reflectors to fill shadows and to make the best use of that magical golden hour backlight in an easy to comprehend WYSIWYG manner.
Bouncing an on-camera speed light from the ceiling is often an eye-opening first departure from direct flash. Positioning a reflector where you would want a key light and bouncing your camera flash on it is an easy way to get an OCF effect without actually having to take your flash off camera, as one flash can become many with added reflectors bouncing light. Bouncing light is absolutely an important foundational skill for photographers.
Most reflectors will have at least two options built-in, and those options are usually white and silver, or white and gold, or gold and silver. 5-in-1 reflectors are also very common, with an inner piece as a frame which is generally a semi-opaque scrim/diffusor and a reversible ‘jacket’ that zips over the frame that will have some variation of a silver and white or black and gold depending on which way it’s turned.
The gold gives a warm, specular look; black provides negative fill, effectively subtracting light where it isn’t wanted; white looks natural but delivers less power, and silver is specular and contrasty.
When a high contrast, neutral bounced light is desired, silver is a good choice. It will provide bright specular highlights and deeper shadows than its white counterpart, and it will reflect more of the bounced light – it will be brighter and eat up less flash power than a white reflector.
WHEN TO USE SILVER
If you don’t have power to spare from your light source, silver will utilize your light more efficiently than white. Choose silver to help you overpower sunlight or any time that you need to squeeze every last bit of power of your bounced flash.
Silver reflectors work particularly well on subjects where a punchier, higher contrast quality of light is sought after. For example, a subject in a fitness shoot looks great with a flash bounced from a silver reflector to highlight their muscle tone and make any sweat (or faux sweat) really glisten.
HOW TO BOUNCE FLASH WITH A SILVER REFLECTOR
A useful tip to remember for bouncing flash with minimal spill is that you can use a grid with your flash. The grid will diminish the spread of light so that it will go where it’s aimed without scattering everywhere.
Place your reflector where you’d want your key light positioned, either mounted on a stand or held by an assistant with your flash mounted on your camera, swivel the flash’s head to point at the reflector. Now you’ve got an off-camera light source with an on-camera flash. Pretty cool, right?
A FEW TYPES OF REFLECTORS
There are many sizes and shapes of reflectors available, and they’re relatively inexpensive. This makes it easy to have varieties on hand. They are also easy to make out of things you have on hand or can easily and cheaply acquire. White foam core is often used to bounce light and can be found at a craft store for just a couple bucks. Wrap it in foil, and now it’s silver. When DIY-ing, if it reflects light, you can probably use it. Get creative.
Most non-DIY reflectors are collapsible for easy storage and portability. There are circular, rectangular, and triangular shaped reflectors on the market. The round ones are a breeze to collapse while other shapes can take some getting used to in order to not be outsmarted by a photographic tool. Practice alone to minimize mockery.
As mentioned above, 5-in-1 is a common type, and its versatility comes in handy. In larger 5-in-1 reflectors, the scrim in the middle is really useful on outdoor shoots to make a little shade when no natural shade is convenient.
For more content like this with video tutorials, check out our Lighting 101 workshop where you learn all the fundamentals of shaping light. If you want a sneak peek, check out the Lighting 101 trailer here.